Early Tuesday morning, Jeff Payne and Chuck Stanley prepared a makeshift lab inside the gymnasium at Battle Creek Elementary, a school in the St. Paul Public Schools district located a few miles southwest of the 3M campus.
Equipped with liquid nitrogen, dry ice, beakers and neon green shirts identifying them as “3M Visiting Wizards,” the duo welcomed a group of fifth-graders as they filed in for the cryogenics demonstration.
Payne started by talking about the three states of matter — solid, liquid, and gas — using balloons to help students visualize the spacing between atoms. Then came the experiments. Stanley got a mild reaction from the audience when he shrank a balloon in a bowl of liquid nitrogen. But by the end of their shtick — with a finale that included fitting an egg through the narrow neck of a beaker and dry-freezing marshmallows for the kids to taste — they had a fully captivated audience.
“This is one of the most popular demos,” Stanley said afterward, noting it’s one of 29 different homegrown kits 3M wizards have to choose from. “We have fun. And it’s a nice way to get kids excited about science.”
He and Payne have both been participating in the 3M Visiting Wizards program for at least 20 years. The program itself dates back to 1985. It entails an official training for prospective wizards who want to partake. And, while there’s no official count, Michael Stroik, director of 3Mgives — the company’s philanthropic arm — suspects 3M wizards have reached more than 1 million students.
In addition to this trademark education initiative, 3Mgives has been a leader in supporting local educators and students through a variety of other programs, donations and volunteer efforts.
While Jacqueline Berry, manager of K-12 education initiatives for 3Mgives, says the company, itself, isn’t concerned with broadcasting each act of giving or volunteering, it recently made headlines by donating another $8 million to fund STEM students and resources at the University of Minnesota, bringing it’s total contributions for this particular fundraising campaign to $26 million; and with a surprise announcement before winter break that the company had funded all St. Paul Public Schools teachers’ classroom supply requests posted on DonorsChoose.org — a gift that amounted to about $75,000.
Its most recent investment to the U brings the company’s total giving — in both cash and products — to the university to nearly $120 million. In the St. Paul Public Schools district — the company’s largest K-12 partner, dating back 40 years — Berry estimates the company invests at least $1 million in products in the district each year, along with the volunteer efforts of more than 1,000 3M employees and alumni.
“As you think about education and you think about our focus on STEM and business disciplines, that’s just extremely relevant for us,” Stroik said. “As a global, multinational company focused on improving lives around the world and applying science and the like, it makes sense for us to invest in this area. It’s alignment of those dollars, to our people and our products, which we think is going to help us maximize our social impact.”
A multipronged approach
According to 3Mgives’ most recent annual report, in 2016 the company gave a total of about $67 million in cash and products to support a variety of different programs that fall into three buckets: education, community and environment.
“Education’s really that number one issue area of investment for us,” Stroik said, noting that a number of education-related initiatives fall under the other two categories, such as youth development and environmental education initiatives.
“The average company gives about 30 percent to education,” Stroik said of 3Ms competitors. “We focus our efforts at 45 percent of our budget.”
Additionally, the company is uniquely positioned to connect students and educators with some “extremely highly skilled engineers, and scientists, and business leaders,” he said, noting they employ about 90,000 employees throughout the world.
Some of these volunteers are engaged in the Visiting Wizards program — one of four science encouragement programs created by 3M employees. There’s also a 3M TECH program, where teachers can submit a request for a 3M employee to come talk to their class about a particular career. And there are two programs where they physically bring teachers and students to the 3M campus to conduct experiments and connect with mentors.
“Our overall goal and strategy is to really advance equitable outcomes for all students,” Berry said.
In the St. Paul district, this goal translates into a number of impactful initiatives that take place largely outside of the public spotlight each year. The list includes everything from outfitting about 18,000 students with school supplies at the start of the school year to supporting a STEM camp at the 3M campus that benefits about 150 students each summer, as well as high-school level programs like robotics teams.
Craig Anderson, principal at Battle Creek Elementary School, says his students and teachers have benefited from a range of 3M-sponsored initiatives over the years.
“Our vision at Battle Creek Elementary is: Learning Powered By STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics,” he said. “We appreciate 3M partnering with us to make this vision a reality for all the kids who attend Battle Creek.”